Thank You Bob Duffy For Recommending that the NYS Legislature Tighten My Daughter’s Inner City School Belt

3. 2. 1. DONE! It only took 3 months for Bob Duffy to completely and totally sell out Rochester to the political circus in Albany.

WXXI’s Karen Dewitt reports that Duffy “told the joint legislative fiscal committees that schools, along with everyone else, will have to do more with less.”

Of course the wealthiest NYer’s won’t be included in “everyone else” because they aren’t being asked to tighten their belts. Duffy/Cuomo want to give a fat tax cut to NYers who earn over a quarter of a million dollars a year. Tax breaks for them. Belt tightening for us. Thanks Bob.

Duffy went on to reveal the same voodoo math that enabled him to wrack up huge deficits with the Rochester City budget with an unconstitutional Zero Tolerance program that harassed teens on the street, sewed discord between the community and the police and was a boon for retiring police officers who got to rack up huge overtime numbers as their base retirement rate. We’ll be paying those inflated police retirement pensions for years to come.

But I digress…

According to Duffy’s voodoo math schools have a billion and a half in reserve funds. But that is an average. Some districts have a lot of reserves and some have none. The average doesn’t help those with none. According to Dr. Rick Timbs of the Statewide School Finance Consortium there are 234 school districts who don’t have any reserves and will simply be bankrupted by Duffy/Cuomo’s budget proposal.

Speaking of averages, the Finance Consortium reveals that students in Monroe County will average $1,104 less in state aid. If there are 500 students in your child’s school that means that there will be $550,000 less for the district to allocate to your school. But if you live in the rural districts surrounding Monroe your child is a LOT worse off. Wyoming County is facing cuts in excess of $1,900 per student.

But Bob Duffy says don’t worry, school districts can cancel contracts with teachers and end their negotiated pay increases. I guess that is possible. But you’ve got to ask yourself why Duffy/Cuomo could start talking about breaking contracts with only one group? Why break the contracts with the teachers? Why not break the contracts with the contractors who supply IT support to the state? Why not break the contracts with the contractors who will be repairing roads this summer. There are a zillion contracts that government could start breaking. Why are Duffy/Cuomo singling out teachers’ and state workers’?

Doesn’t smell right.

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If I Hear One More Blowhard Say Taxing the Rich Will Cause Them to Flee the State I Will Jam This Data in Their Piehole

How many times do we have to pore over the experiment in New Jersey to prove that the rich are bluffing when they say they will take their football and go to Florida where the taxes are lower?! If I were a conservative I’d say something like “that dog won’t hunt.”

Yes, yes Tom Golisano moved to Florida but it is a well known fact that he is a total dick and doesn’t deserve to live in NY. Apparently the other billionaires aren’t following his lead. Maybe, like most humans, despite the fact that they can live wherever they damn well please, billionaires settle down and call some place home.

So, from the National Tax Journal via Balloon Juice:

Drawing on the NJ-1040 microdata — a near census of top income earners — this study examines the impact of a new progressive state income tax. Do progressive state income taxes cause tax flight among the wealthy? The New Jersey millionaire tax experiment offers a potent testing ground, given the magnitude of the policy change and the relative ease of relocating to a different state tax regime without leaving the New York or Philadelphia metropolitan areas. Using a difference-in-difference estimator, we find minimal effect of the new tax on the migration of millionaires. Using the 95–99th percentiles of the income distribution as a “non-33 taxed” control group, we find that the 99th percentile (those subject to the new tax) show much the same trends in migration patterns over time. There are small subsets of the millionaire population that are more sensitive to state taxation. Nonetheless, the broad conclusion holds even when looking at the richest 0.1 percent of households.

These findings mesh well with existing research showing that the migration response to marginal tax policy changes is generally quite small. Our work also addresses the question, “are the rich different?” (Alm and Wallace, 2000), and follows the recommendations of Piketty and Saez (2003) to focus on the behavior of the top 1 percent (and even top 0.1 percent) of income earners. We conclude that, at least in terms of the migration response to state income taxes, the rich are not different — they seem to have much the same non-response as the general population.

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New Study Reveals Americans Want to Raise Taxes on the Wealthy – Not Fire Their Child’s Teacher

How would you solve the budget deficit? Would you cut programs for urban youth? Would cut education? Would fire state workers?

A new University of Maryland study reveals that Americans would raise taxes on income above $100,000 and they would cut the military budget and funding for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, NASA, the CIA, highway and agriculture subsidies and Hillary Clinton’s State Department. Cuts to education, youth services and anti-poverty programs? Nope.

Most Americans agree its time for those folks who have done quite well to kick in some more (according to New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness over the last 30 years the top 1% income earners have seen their portion of NY income increase 300%). Ironically the conservative pundits will say you are guilty of “class warfare” if you talk about this stuff.

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Nothing Beats Poverty Like Beating Poverty

Well, the results are in. A long forgotten study in Canada shows that when you provide a guaranteed annual income people don’t slide into dissolution, profligacy and debauchery. Looks like everybody does better when everybody does better.

From the article: “Once upon a time in Canada, there was a town where no one was poor. That might seem like a fairy tale, but it’s an historic fact. From 1974 through 1978, as part of a labour market experiment called MINCOME, all of the almost 13,000 citizens in and around Dauphin, Manitoba were guaranteed annual income support to keep them above the poverty line… Along with the positive health results, Dr. Forget found that teenagers stayed in school longer, likely because their families were assured of a minimum income.

Well, well. What do you know.

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RCSD Return on Investment

The D&C reported on some Center for American Progress (CAP) research. CAP is known for progressive type leanings but let’s be clear that it has released reports on how to fight better in Afghanistan and they played a central role in the Obamacare strategy (freezing out single payer). They have also advocated for teacher performance pay and more charter schools. They pass for progressive inside the beltway but anywhere else they smell way more neoliberal than the rest of us.

The D&C reported that “The City School District was rated as having the lowest spending for the lowest results. The reported administrative costs for the city school district — 15 percent of the budget — was the highest in the county, and the portion spent on instructional needs — 58 percent — was one of the lowest.

The biggest caveat I read in the report is that they didn’t track graduation rates. That’s a big omission. What other factors were left out? This is not insignificant and should put a huge asterisk on this report. But the data such as it is does raise some questions.

As you can see from the chart, Rochester spends less per pupil (adjusted for poverty and ESL etc) than most districts in the rest of the state. You can also see that we’re in the same situation as Syracuse and Buffalo. All three districts don’t have as much to spend on students as the rest of the state and none of the districts that do better than Buffalo, Syracuse or Rochester have anywhere near the concentration of poverty that we do.

The takeaway is a big “Duh!” Mid sized rust belt cities don’t have enough funds to deal with the challenges they face. Webster, Gates and East Irondequoit and other suburban districts don’t face what the RCSD faces.  We have  many children who speak English as a second language and many children come from homes with really low incomes and don’t know their alphabet or colors when they show up for the first day of school.

The other question is the central office spending. Apparently Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse spend more on administration. How much more? Is this typical for mid size rust belt cities? These are critical questions.

One obvious factor is that large schools just don’t work well in districts with high levels of poverty. That makes sense. When most students in a school come from families and neighborhood where the unemployment rate is astronomical the connection between education and employment is tenuous. Students in that situation are coming to conclusions that are arguably valid. They show up in class thinking that no matter what happens, chances aren’t that great that when they graduate employers will come knocking on their door to offer them a job. So, why stay in school? The alienation factor is huge. Which is why the drop out rate is about 50% in Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester.

In order to combat that alienation factor you need smaller schools in which the students are more likely to feel connected to the institutions. Study after study shows that the larger the school the greater the alienation. That might be OK for Pittsford where children assume that, since their parents have jobs, and everybody on their block has a job, staying in school could lead to a job – no matter how much you don’t feel a part of the school institution.

And small schools mean more administrators. That’s just one example of why Rochester might be more top heavy than Rush Henrietta.

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What the D&C didn’t report about Albany slicing Rochester aid

Albany doesn’t have to cut our aid. We don’t have to lay off my child’s teacher or hand out pink slips to police and firefighters. The money is there. It’s just the political will that is missing.

Do you earn more than $250,000? If not then you probably didn’t see much of an income increase in the past few years. Maybe your family had it rough and has been through some unemployment. And maybe you didn’t pull down a major slice of federal tax cuts give backs. Does that sound like you? My guess is that you can’t afford to chip in anymore taxes this year.

However the folks earning over $250,000 saw their incomes climb nicely over the last few years and they will grab over a third of the entire Obama tax cut package going to NYers. But not only that, Cuomo is about to give them another tax cut on top of the Obama tax cut.

Instead of slicing away at our schools and municipal services Cuomo could hold off on handing over a major tax cut windfall to the wealthiest NYers this year. We could keep the current tax rates in place in NY. That would pull in enough revenue to stop these drastic cuts to our communities. Why is Cuomo giving the wealthiest NYers a free pass? Why not ask them to pay their fair share?

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Cuomo Calls Your Grandmother in a Nursing Home a “Special Interest” and Proposes Laying Off Your Child’s Teacher

Cuomo’s on a roll. First, in his state of the union he called health care and education “special interests” and now he’s talking about massive cuts during a recession, when families are being hit hardest. Governor Cuomo should check his spreadsheet again –  the biggest chunk of New York State Medicaid is nursing home care.

The City School district gets over 80% of it’s funds from the state. The principal of my child’s school reports that the 20% across-the-board budget cut will mean massive layoffs and elimination of the programs that made the school successful. The cut in state revenue will have a similarly devastating effect to City programs. The Rec Centers are already stretched too thin.

And despite conservative attempts to use home budgeting metaphors (“just gotta tighten our belts”) we can’t just cut our way out of this. A better analogy would be chopping up the furniture when it gets cold.

The people that will be laid off are our neighbors. Once they are unemployed they won’t be shopping at local stores or renovating their homes, leading to more layoffs. Once unemployed they will be eligible for services. And the vicious cycle continues.

Everybody has to contribute their fair share. We’ve got to make sure the wealthiest New Yorkers pay their fair share. Local residents worked long and hard to put into place the temporary income tax surcharge on income above $300,000. If Cuomo and the legislature eliminate the surcharge the state will lose about $5 billion a year, dollars that could go to keeping the current staffing at my daughter’s school and a property tax circuit breaker. As New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness Director Ron Deutsch puts it “It’s still a great time to be rich in New York.”

The millionaires in the top 1% will receive an average tax cut of $123,890. This handful of folks will pull in over a third of the entire Obama federal tax cut headed for New York. And while New York’s poverty level is at the highest  rate in 20 years and as wages stagnate for most workers and drop for young college grads, Deutsch points out that over the last 30 years the richest 1% have seen their slice of New York income pie triple in size.

But Cuomo’s response is to cut taxes on the richest NYers and slash services for the hardest hit. Instead, Cuomo should listen to the Progressive Caucus’ proposal to capture the Bush/Obama income tax windfall. The state would pick up over $8 billion in revenue just by redirecting the Bush era tax cuts (which Obama kept alive).

We know that Wall Street precipitated the current economic mess and that the rest of us shouldn’t be the only ones cleaning it up. You and I have to pay tax every time we go to Staples, Home Depot or Charlotte Appliance but somebody buying stock on Wall Street doesn’t have to pay a penny in tax. Albany collects $16 billion a year on these stock transactions, but then refunds the entire pile back to Wall Street! By just holding onto a portion of that tax the state wouldn’t have to fire teachers and state workers and the rec centers and afterschool programs in the City could stay open.

There are sensible solutions to the budget crisis. We just have to make sure that everybody is putting away their rigid ideologies and their personal agendas.

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Mayor Carballada Cheers Cuomo’s cutting of Rochester’s aid

In today’s D&C:

“Acting Mayor Carlos Carballada said the budget proposal takes the state in a positive direction by ending automatic yearly spending increases…”

Those “automatic spending increases” that Carballada is referring to are formulas that calculate how many low income students, students with learning disabilities and ESL students a school district has. Those increases were supposed to help our school district catch up with neighboring school districts.

Those “automatic spending increases” were formulas put in place to determine how much funding is needed for nursing home care (the biggest chunk of NYS Medicaid funding). Those formulas were based on need and the need is pretty huge now that Wall Street’s mortgage-derivative caused recession has taken its toll.

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What I Know About Tom Richards

  1. Of all the City Hall Department heads he chose Carlos Carballada to replace him. Here’s what I know about Carlos Carballada.
  2. He was the head of RG&E during the time that anti-poverty activists noted that RG&E became less likely to negotiate around turning off people’s electricity.
  3. He was the City Hall Corporation Counsel. That means he was in charge of making sure the City complied with state and federal guidelines. Like the Hatch Act. Woops. And the city charter’s provisions for succession. Maybe woops.
  4. When talking about the City budget deficit he doesn’t talk about New York state revenue sharing nor does he push back against budget cuts coming from Albany (at a time when Albany is about to give a $5 billion tax cut to the wealthiest NYers and refuses to hold onto any of the $16 billion in stock transfer tax that it collects from Wall Street and then refunds completely).
  5. He lives in the Browncroft neighborhood (hey, I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with the Browncroft neighborhood but if there is any neighborhood in the city that exists inside an insulated bubble that would be Browncroft).

Here’s what I’ve been told about Tom Richards

  1. He was a lifelong Republican. I was also told he only switched his party registration when he was invited to join the Duffy administration.
  2. He was the corporate council when the Duffy administration was assessing the constitutionality of the Zero Tolerance policy (the state courts ruled that it was unconstitutional). Maybe woops again.

What do you know? Please share.

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What I know about our acting mayor, Carlos Carballada

When I was an organizer with Metro Justice I helped with the statewide campaign to reform New York’s industrial development agency (IDA) system. IDA’s were set up to lure industrial businesses into an area with tax breaks. There are many instances around the state where the system actually does what is supposed to do but WAY too often the system just hands out totally unjustified tax subsidies to businesses. The system is a boon for well-connected businesses, netting them juicy tax breaks. I’ve documented those cases in this blog here and here and wrote up a study of the County of Monroe Industrial Development Agency (COMIDA) entitled COMIDA Isn’t Spanish for Free Lunch.

These bogus tax giveaways are not just gross because they are morally wrong and stink of insider corruption, but these tax breaks deny much needed revenue to towns, cities and school systems that are struggling to close the budget gap.

My job was to recruit local business owners and local elected officials and it was pretty easy to get local restaurant owners to write letters to Senator Robach asking him why Mario’s should get a tax break while they have to pay all of their taxes. I also had success with local Town Supervisors and Council members who attended press conferences and signed onto letters. Brighton Town Supervisor Sandy Frankel and Brighton Councilmember Ray Tierney were notable in their leadership on the issue.

I met with Mr. Carballada to discuss the issue and show him the loss of revenue in Rochester due to these deals. I was taken aback by how dismissive he was of the issue. He told me that business representatives told him that the tax breaks were critical in their relocation decisionmaking. I pointed out that, of course that was what they would say, it’s their job to squeeze every penny out of government, but that actually, in study after study, businesses didn’t really look at tax breaks when they were making their decisions. Their main concern was the cost of energy, access to markets and productivity of the workforce.

Mr. Carballada’s response was to scold me for “arguing” with him.

I left thinking that Mr. Carballada was still wearing his Chamber of Commerce hat and hadn’t yet put on his government employee hat. Our meeting was early in his tenure, so to be fair to Mr. Carballada, I should give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he modified his ideological allegiance to the corporate world. Perhaps he developed a more critical consciousness about where government and businesses interests actually intersect and where they are at odds.

Or maybe he didn’t.

I have blogged here about the differential treatment that downtown developers and neighborhood residents receive from City Hall. Carlos Carballada’s has been in charge of neighborhood and business development.  In my job as a community organizer I have been talking to  store owners and the message is pretty mixed. Some of the local businesses say that they’ve had good luck taking advantage of City programs but others, particularly the Yemeni corner store owners are frustrated by the red tape, language barriers and attitudes they encounter at City Hall. And of course many other businesses are really upset about the new restrictions and fees that the City has enacted (I shop at Park Ave Pets). None of these folks were able to get special sessions of City Council called for their projects. Contrast that to the downtown development deals.

My work with neighborhood residents is also illustrative. Many residents have had success getting stuff done, but in each case its because they’ve identified a champion within City Hall that moves things forward for them. For those folks who are not able to locate somebody to advocate for them within the system, their experience is frustrating.

But Mr. Carballada really upset neighborhood residents when he eliminated the Neighbors Building Neighborhoods program. The NBN system was started by Mayor Johnson as a way to invite neighborhood leaders to the table to help identify city priorities and help with planning. As flawed as it was, the program had great potential to develop a collaborative dynamic between City Hall and the neighborhoods. Mayor Johnson’s instincts were truly democratic in this regard.

But Mr. Carballada ended the program. And many residents point to that move as symbolic of a shift in dynamics from a more collaboratively oriented Johnson administration to a more top-down Duffy administration. One resident told me that City Hall’s attitude now is “if it was a good idea we would have already thought of it.”

That’s probably going too far. I’ve had a bunch of excellent interactions with City Hall staff who have really listened to residents about the particular needs of the neighborhood. However, the overall shift in dynamics is undeniable and while it seems less true at the lower level of City Hall it is definitely more true at the leadership level.



I recall a local Brookings presentation about the local economy. Carlos Carballada was there and I asked a question about NYS revenue sharing. During the 70’s the state committed to sharing revenues with distressed cities. But within a few years the dollar amounts got frozen and inflation rendered the aid meaningless. I brought up the issue, pointing out that Rochester would be a lot better off if the state honored its commitment.

Carballada had never heard of the revenue sharing.

There was another guy in the panel who knew about the revenue sharing and corrected my information (my dates were wrong and I had pinned it on Pataki but it was Carey who started the freeze). That guy who understood how to work the system for the benefit of the city was Bill Johnson.

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